“I had focused on coming to terms with the unpleasant, unacceptable, embarassing, and painful things that I do. In the process, I had very subtly forgotten about joy.”
— Pema Chodron, from Awakening Loving-Kindness, page 49.
Find the joy.
This is my new motto.
After writing my posts about financial struggles and my frustration facing the expensive holidays, I happened upon a chapter about Joy in my itsy bitsy Pema Chodron primer, Awakening Loving-Kindness. If I could, I would copy and paste the entire chapter into this post. Since I do not want to be held responsible for copyright infringement, I will just talk about a couple of the parts that really resonated with me.
Pema Chodron tells the story about a woman being pursued by tigers. She ends up going over a cliff, and barely hanging on, she notices a little clump of strawberries. “Tigers above, tigers below,” Chodron writes (page 52). “This is actually the predicament we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
I have a feeling this statement might be easier said than done. In fact, I know beyond doubt it is easier said. However, I also know opportunities exist where I can choose pleasure or despair.
I’ve been focusing a lot on how much I suck, then grappling with self acceptance. While this has been illuminating and helpful for me, I sort of want to shift my focus a bit. I want to make a little more room for joy.
I’ve started by simply repeating to myself, find the joy, whenever I think of it. I also try telling myself to find the joy when I am feeling frustrated, bored, annoyed, or worried. For example, I tried it the other night when Jack was being a nudge about something or other. Instead of talking things out, he started to bawl, went into his room and slammed the door. With a wry smile, I told myself find the joy. Before I knew it, I had switched from feeling frustrated about my challenging child, to feeling proud of his strength and intensity. I was able to remember all the things I loved about Jack without bringing myself down for that one moment of not being able to reach him.
It had worked! Go figure.
I’ve also started trying to pick up on the moments when I feel a fleeting sense of joy, and try to stay with it. Sometimes I actually feel myself struggling against joyfulness. What is that all about? There are times when my kids are silly and laughing and instead of joining in the fun, I feel myself tighten up with stress that things are going to get out of control. Would it be easier, I wonder, to just give in and smile and laugh too? What stops me? Why can’t I enjoy my children’s artwork strewn around the house instead of worrying about mess and clutter? Why can’t I sing along with my son instead of rushing to hush him?
What on earth could be so threatening about joy?
Many months ago, Emily and I were in line at Trader Joe’s. There was a tiny plant with yellow flowers on the counter by the cashier. Emily admired it, so the clerk gave it to us for free. It was a nice gesture. I took the plant home and we enjoyed it until it wilted, then tossed it out onto the porch where it quickly became scorched in the summer sun. But then we watered it, and it bounced back! It actually grew and bloomed again!
My husband transplanted it from its tiny plastic pot into a mosaic planter a friend had given me decades ago that had been long empty. The plant grew and flourished. Now it resides on top of my fridge, thriving in that pretty pot.
I get a jolt of pleasure every time I look at it, thinking about the day Emily and I were given the plant in a random gesture of kindness, of my friend who gave me the pot it is in, of the thoughtful gesture of my husband transplanting it, and of how resilient the silly, little plant has been. I try to be mindful of this pleasure-jolt, and to stay with it for a few moments in the midst of the daily flurry.
I want my kids to grow up and know joy. I want them to choose to see the light and love and happiness in things, and I know my example in this matter is of utmost importance.
The tigers are always going to be there. Money woe. Work stress. Sleep deprivation. Time constraints. Worrying about my children. Bickering with my husband. Anxiety. Depression. General household frustration. These things are always there above and below me, threatening to sink their teeth into my heart and soul. It is not always easy to look away from these riveting rivals to find joy in a little plant, in a drawing from my son, in the sounds of laughter or song.
But maybe it should be easier.
Pema Chodron says, “You could connect with your joyfulness. You could start right now.”
I think I will.
What brings you joy? Do you ever struggle to feel joyful? What stands in your way of joy?